By CHINAZO-BERTRAND OKEOMAH
Nigerians are a very impatient lot. We act like the proverbial tortoise cast into a pit for some time. But one day his captors came to release him; whereupon he began to cry, asking them to make haste because he was choking to death from the smell of faeces. Did we not live for 16 years with the rot and perfidy of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and are we now choking to death with the one-month “inactivity” (as some term it) of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I know Buhari retired as a general of the Nigerian Army. I may not know much about the military or the ways of generals, but I do know one thing – no army general worth his salt goes to war without a well-laid out plan and strategy. And warfare plans and strategies are much like political plans and strategies. They do not come easy; not to talk of when the terrain had been messed up by the ineptitude and graft of previous actors.
I sincerely think the weight of the job thrust upon Buhari’s spare frame is great. He is like the unlucky town planner whose mates, in a lucky dip, picked virgin lands on which to raise model estates; but he picked one in a slum like Ajegunle. He will be a fool to do exactly the same pre-construction activities as his mates, such as engaging land surveyors to do the layout, and architects to design the houses. His pre-construction activities are more time consuming and elaborate.
They include hiring public relations experts to convince property owners in the slum to accept the project after they have been made to see what they would gain. He would also engage estate surveyors to value the property and work out a compensation plan for the owners, before he could bring equipment to pull down the old houses and cart away the enormous debris. It is after all this that he would, like others, commence construction.
I think this is similar to what Buhari is doing today. He is crafting the best way to clean up the mess left for him by previous regimes, as well as designing the blueprint with which to run his government. But Nigerians are busy complaining, because we are very locomotive; having been schooled to believe that activity is equal to productivity, or that pursuit of efficiency is as good as pursuit of effectiveness. This is not true. Efficiency is doing “anything”, even the wrong thing, in the right way and at the right speed, but effectiveness is doing the “right thing” in the right way and at the right speed. Greatness lies in first discovering what the “right thing” is!
Benjamin Franklin said that, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Every project manager knows this. So he starts with preparation or planning, before the other two steps of action or doing, and follow through. Preparation involves Investigation, Evaluation, Planning and Getting Ready. Doing involves Action, Tracking and Control; while Follow Through involves Delivery and Maintenance. In corporate training we tell our clients that one hour they spend in planning saves them 10 hours in execution, and that N1 million they spend in planning saves them N10 million in execution. So I do not mind if Buhari spends four and half months or 10 per cent of his 48-month tenure in planning, as long as he achieves results at the end of the day.
But many Nigerians want him to “hit the ground running”, as I hear some newly elected governors mouthing. And many of them actually do so without equipping themselves with any blueprint. Such men, along the way, would either run out of steam or discover they had made mistakes; whereupon they would begin the wasteful act of pulling down structures they had begun. Such people do not know that leadership is like marathon. It is not certain the man who takes the initial lead would win. There are times great marathoners win from the rear. They run based on their race plan, and not the antics or tactics of their rivals, which can be treacherous.
Planning helped me in my practical Physics in secondary school. I had planned well for the exam, having rehearsed the experiments with glass block and pendulum on my own the day before. I also memorised the results I got, which turned out to be exactly what I needed in the exam. The girl beside me knew I was one of the best students in the school and had planned to copy from me. But she soon felt I was too slow when I didn’t “hit the ground running”, like others, by joining their noise of driving pins into papers on wooden tables. So she turned to another student for help.
But suddenly she noticed I was plotting my graph, which was the last leg of the question, and she went hysterical. She came upon my script like a cat after a rat and the invigilator had to send her to another seat after the third warning. Those were days of modicum sanity, when teachers didn’t force students to bribe invigilators in order to let them cheat in exams. I was the first to finish that exam in half the time, and I made an A in Physics.
In his book, From Third World to First, Lee Kuan Yew said they “faced tremendous odds with improbable chance of survival,” when he became prime minister of Singapore in 1965. “Singapore was not a natural country but man-made… We inherited the island without its hinterland, a heart without a body.” Their economy was in a shambles, they had no international recognition, and they had no army to defend them from their much bigger neighbours like Malaysia. All this gave him sleepless nights. But they had a secret, namely, they did “weigh all possible consequences before we make any move on the political chessboard.” That is the spelling of planning in statecraft, and I think that’s what Buhari is doing. That factor helped Yew take Singapore from third world to first in a record time of 35 years.
Jesus Christ used 30 years to plan and prepare for a ministry He ran for only three and half years; which ministry still changes lives all over the world after over 2000 years. So let’s give Buhari enough time to plan how to salvage Nigeria from the many challenges facing it today.
Okeomah, author and corporate trainer, can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org